Live Concert at City Recital Hall, Sydney, 13 April 2024.

Reviewed by Barry O’Sullivan

So, what is The Great American Songbook, and how is it loosely defined? It comprises a canon of a significant number of American tunes with lyrics written in the Golden Age of American popular music, typically defined as the period from the early years of the twentieth century through to the 1960s. It allows people to share experiences with innumerable and memorable songs, which emanate from lounge music, Broadway tunes, Tin Pan Alley, and even sometimes from traditional pop writers such as Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach, and Jimmy Webb. Essentially, it’s based on the criterion that the songs give meaning to the soundtrack of human lives and emotions.

Gregg Arthur is an exponent of an art form of singing jazz vocals, and he wants to make sure that it’s not forgotten and doesn’t disappear into the annals of musical history. Following in the footsteps and styles of Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé, and Tony Bennett, Arthur proved himself to be one of the great interpreters of The Great American Songbook in his performance to an enthusiastically receptive audience of his fans in a packed house at the City Recital Hall.

This was his first foray into the world of the concert stage, having regularly performed to audiences in jazz clubs from Sydney to Singapore, and in the United States. This occasion featured his most requested classics from composers Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Rodgers & Hart, utilising the talents of his regular band of Australian jazz royalty, pianist Peter Locke, bassist Craig Scott, drummer Andrew Dickeson, and the guest artists Craig Walters on tenor saxophone and guitarist Charlie Meadows. The complete package, so to speak.

His vocal interpretations were way too many to mention all, but the standout evening highlights were his duets, firstly with the bassist Craig Scott, discovering the timeless beauty of the Eden Ahbez composition, Nature Boy, and a true-to-form rendition of Antoniò Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova song Corcovado with the guitarist Charlie Meadows, which is most probably more closely associated with The Great South American Songbook if there is such a thing. A knockout delivery of the Dinah Washington classic hit, What A Difference a Day Makes, was the evening’s crowd pleaser with the band pumping on full throttle, a sensitive rendition of an obscure Jimmy Webb composition, Time Flies, and a penultimate rendition of the once-banned Cole Porter classic, Love For Sale, considered to be far too risqué for airplay and performance in 1930, were all delightedly received by his audience.

Arthur interspersed his performance with playful chatter and anecdotes, some cornball exchanges with the band members and a style of phrasing a song that Tony Bennett once described as ‘perfection’. His numerous well-honed vocal techniques allowed him to encourage his audience to applaud, and when used sparingly and wisely like the consummate professional that he is, delivered a world-class performance triumph of the sumptuous material.